Friday, May 8, 2020

What I Lost as a Caregiver with School Ending

I didn't know that when I picked my children up from school in Illinois on March 16 that it would be the final time for the school year.

My son, Elijah, is finishing up fifth grade at our dining room table. My daughter, Jaycee, no longer attends her school for the disabled. She too is completing assignments at our dining room table. Along with her classroom work, we're trying to complete activities from her speech, occupational, and physical therapists at home. 

Like many other students, my children missed out on many end of the year activities. Fun things like field trips, spring break plans, and class parties didn't happen this year. My daughter wasn't able to compete in a couple of Special Olympics events. There was no transition for them. One day they were at school like normal; they next they were remote learning at home. Some days, it is easy and fun. Other days, school at home has been miserable and, quite simply, a chore. 

My kids weren't the only ones struggling with their new reality. I missed out on some important end of the year activities myself. Before the school year ends, I make sure I have all my dental, doctor, and hair appointments completed. Finding the time to do these things in the summer is harder when I have to consider who is going to look after my kids. Of course, this year I couldn't schedule appointments to make life easier later. Like everyone else, I'll wait and see when things reopen and hope I can find a time when someone can help me. 

Usually in March, I start mentally preparing for summer break. During the school year, I typically work Monday-Wednesday. That gives me Thursdays and Fridays to run errands, complete projects at home alone, clean the house, and simply have time to myself. Self-care is important for all mothers, but it is especially important for those like me. I love being Jaycee's mom, but I've been care giving for 14 years. Most parents can leave their 14 year old in the house alone while they mow or run an errand. I couldn't think about doing that with Jaycee. Most parents don't need to help their teenager in the shower, cut their meat up for them, or complete a few hours of medical interventions each day. This is my reality that I am more than fine with, but I do need to take care of myself to keep up with the caregiving demands.  

During the last couple of months of the school year, I typically spend time doing things I like while I have the ability to do so. I know for three months in the summer, my time alone is going to be almost nothing. Therefore, I try to schedule a massage in May as a way to relax. I grab a lunch at a local restaurant a few times, shop at Kohl's, and enjoy a movie at home in peace and quiet. In other words, I prepare for the three months of nonstop caregiving. 

This year, there was no time for preparation. The summer schedule of caregiving started in March. I had no time to decompress or relax. Things happened quickly and right in the middle of added stressors of job changes and home school. I know most other parents found themselves in a very similar situation too. 

School is much more than a place of academics for families like mine. School provides respite. It allows me time off from being a caregiver. It gives me freedom to do things like shop for groceries. (Pre-COVID-19, there were some grocery trips that go well with Jaycee. Other trips, I felt rushed and anxious when Jaycee's fatigue caused her to sit down on the germy floor each time I stopped to get an item.) 

Life is complicated right now for many people. Fortunately, there isn't much to do or many places to go right now in Illinois. Still, my caregiving is in full swing earlier than usual. I'm praying this fall we aren't in this same predicament for a number of reasons! 

I hope this post isn't taken as a complaint. It's simply an informative piece for those of you who don't have children with special or medical needs. You may not realize what school means to families like mine. School being abruptly closed provides challenges for my children and myself. We were all thrown into this situation without warning. So far, we are adjusting and carrying on. 

This morning, I watched my children have a lightsaber fight in full costumes. We were all smiling and laughing. Parts of this new schedule have been hard, but I think we'll be stronger at the end of it. 
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